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Posted on Fri, Jun 21, 2013 : 2:59 p.m.

Howell worker injured in Dexter explosion files lawsuit against contractors

By John Counts


The Dexter Utilities Department wastewater treatment plant.

John Counts |


David McBride

Courtesy of Bill McHenry

The 23-year-old Howell man injured in an April explosion that killed another worker at a Dexter wastewater treatment plant on Thursday filed a lawsuit against the contractors.

The suit, filed in the Washtenaw County Trial Court, claims David McBride wasn’t warned methane gas was present in the area where he was using a blowtorch, which caused the explosion.

“It is inconceivable in this day and age that engineers and experienced general contractors would allow cutting operations with torches to go on for nearly two days on a digester loaded with raw sewage and highly explosive methane gas,” McBride’s attorney, Bill McHenry, said in a released statement. “This is not rocket science. This tragic accident should have never happened.”

McBride suffered serious head injuries and hasn’t yet returned to work, McHenry said.

The suit states McBride was cutting bolts on the lid of a digester, one of two large tanks used for collecting and processing sewage at the Village of Dexter’s Wastewater Treatment Plant, when the torch he was using ignited the methane gas and caused the explosion.

“(McBride) was launched into the inside of the rim of the digester, resulting in horrific and permanent injuries including, but not limited to, traumatic brain injury,” the suit claims.

Michael Koch a supervisor with Platinum Mechanical, Inc., was killed in the blast. The 48-year-old Brooklyn, Mich. man was working alongside McBride on top of the lid.

The defendants listed in the suit are the general contractor, A.Z. Shmina, Inc., and the two sub-contractors, Platinum Mechanical, Inc. and Orchard, Hiltz & McCliment, Inc.

McBride worked for Regal Recycling, Inc., a Howell-based salvage company that was called in to scrap the lids of the digesters. McHenry said the contractors who hired McBride should have known the digesters were still filled with methane-emitting sludge and not allowed the him to use a torch trying to remove the lids.

“The people in charge of the site should have known that the digester was still full of sewage,” McHenry said. “(The contractors) never in a million years should have allowed torches.”

The suit lists three counts of negligence and gross negligence, one count against each of the contractors.

The Village of Dexter awarded A.Z. Shmina, Inc. the $3.3 million contract to renovate the wastewater treatment plant in July 2012.

Work has continued at the plant since the explosion. The lid of the primary digester has since been removed and may be responsible for a foul odor in Dexter until a new lid can be put in place, reported Thursday.

The treatment plant contains two digesters, a smaller, primary digester that mixes and heats the sludge to help break it down and a larger digester used mainly for storage. The current lids date back to the 1970s and were not functioning properly, making them very inefficient, has reported.

Back in April, McBride had cut the bolts off the secondary digester the day before the explosion without incident. He was working with the blowtorch on the primary digester when the flame ignited the methane, McHenry said.

“He’s still recovering,” the attorney added. “The kid wants to get back to work. He’s young, he’s strong, he’s healthy, but he’s suffered a serious head injury.”

The suit requests an undisclosed amount more than $25,000, the minimum for a case to appear in circuit court.

A spokesperson for Platinum Mechanical, Inc. declined to comment about the lawsuit when reached by phone Friday. Messages were left with A.Z. Shmina, Inc. and Orchard, Hiltz & McCliment, Inc.

The explosion is still under investigation by the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

John Counts covers cops and courts for He can be reached at or you can follow him on Twitter.



Mon, Jun 24, 2013 : 11:16 a.m.

"This is not rocket science. This tragic accident should have never happened." Yeah, like a welder/cutter knowing the environment they're cutting it... Some of this should be on him as well.


Sat, Jun 22, 2013 : 7:46 p.m.

They make portable gas detectors for these kinds of situations, and it appears one was not used which is tragic as it may have prevented this ! Anybody in the waste water profession knows better!


Sun, Jun 23, 2013 : 4:18 a.m.

But Nicholas Urfe, I thought you said the gas wasn't contained/captured?

Nicholas Urfe

Sat, Jun 22, 2013 : 8:22 p.m.

This went on for two days. It is possible the gas levels varied due to wind conditions, etc. Or maybe as the bolts were cut, gas that was previously contained escaped.


Sat, Jun 22, 2013 : 6:07 p.m.

Yes, methane gas is odorless, but in operations like these Mercaptan is used to make it produce a smell so one knows if there is methane gas present or not. If you had read the article closely it states "the lid of the primary digester has since been removed and may be responsible for a foul odor in Dexter until a new lid can be put in place." And Nicholas Urfe, Platinum Mechanical, Inc is a unionized company, along with A.Z. Shmina. To say "Unions often prevent these types of accidents" is simply factually wrong and misleading. I am curious to know why Regal Recycling isn't being sued, afterall that is who David McBride is employed by. I am wondering if there isn't money in Regal Recycling?


Fri, Jun 28, 2013 : 10:21 p.m.

"Yes, methane gas is odorless, but in operations like these Mercaptan is used to make it produce a smell so one knows if there is methane gas present or not." uh, no. you're thinking of natural gas and propane. not methane that may or may not be present in a wwtp.


Sun, Jun 23, 2013 : 4:15 a.m.

Thanks Colorado Sun--that explains why. Nicholas Urfe---you just talked yourself into a pretzel.

Colorado Sun

Sun, Jun 23, 2013 : 2:19 a.m.

"I am curious to know why Regal Recycing isn't being sued." State law limits the injured worker to a claim for workers' compensation benefits as the exclusive remedy against his employer.

Nicholas Urfe

Sat, Jun 22, 2013 : 8:21 p.m.

The sewage smells. The people in dexter smell sewage, not mercaptan. Mercaptan is typically added to the *captured* gas. This was gas that wasn't captured. Mercaptan isn't added to the sewage in the tank.

Nicholas Urfe

Sat, Jun 22, 2013 : 12:56 p.m.

As another poster suggested, Unions often prevent these types of accidents. They tend to protect workers who refuse to work based on safety issues, have questions about safety, or issues where short-cuts are being taken. If companies violate safety rules that put people at risk, unions are more likely to draw attention to those violations. An individual worker who questions safety often isn't kept around for long. Of course we don't yet know what happened here.

Nicholas Urfe

Sat, Jun 22, 2013 : 12:45 p.m.

"Why didn't the workers question their safety before doing the work.." Maybe they did. Maybe they were screamed at to do the job or find another. Maybe they were told the tank had been sufficiently vented, or there was enough wind. We don't know.. yet. What is the company doing for the injured employee? Anything? We don't know whether the company had insurance of any kind, or if the employees did. Are the survivors of the deceased are getting anything? Does the injured man have any disability insurance? But right now he can't work, and he surely has bills to pay. It sounds like he needs physical therapy and other treatment. Most creditors don't care or want to hear about your disability or job issues. Workers comp isn't automatic. It sometimes involves a lengthy fight just because the insurance company wants to fight and drag it out - even if they don't show up to court hearings that they requested. That happened to a family member.


Sat, Jun 22, 2013 : 12:38 p.m.

Where were thee employees at the WWTP when this open flame cutting was occurring? This kind of thing is stressed very heavily when studying and obtaining State Certification for WWTP operating licenses. At the WWTP I worked at there were signs prominently displayed warning about methane and open flames! This kind of event should never have occurred had proper safety procedures been followed, which to me indicates failures on many levels!


Sat, Jun 22, 2013 : 11:27 a.m.

The whole story is sad..a man lost his life and another injured. It's interesting though, when I first heard about the explosion and where it took place methane gas came to mind immediately. Why didn't the workers question their safety before doing the work...and I would think the employer would be looking out for them too.


Sat, Jun 22, 2013 : 6:38 a.m.

The people that bid the job most certainly held themselves to be the expert's in this area of repairing or replacing sewage containers. It is so unfortunate that a young kid is permanently injured and another man killed. The workers lose their lives while the CEOs/owners rake in the big dough-even if they are small companies. Nothing new here -- are any of these workers in unions i wonder? That's why unions were formed to protect things like this from happening -- and if they don't. sue them up big-time! But what will millions of dollars do for you when you are brain damaged 'cept hire someone to take care of you. especially when you are older. Hopefully the lawyer will know enough to look at the description of the job that was posted by the township when they solicited bids, because he should have had them in the lawsuit as well -- perhaps the township was grossly negligent in the selection of these companies. Important to see why these companies were hired in the first place -- friends, relatives, straw-man owners?


Sat, Jun 22, 2013 : 12:51 a.m.

Hindsight is 20-20 but OSHA should probably require that ALL waste facilities post signs warning of the possible presence of explosive gasses.

Jim Osborn

Sat, Jun 22, 2013 : 12:20 p.m.

Bob, R U joking? How can you know if a warning sign helped to avoid a tragedy? If a sign had been posted that stated that methane gas is oderless and exposive, it might have prevented this. No guarentee, but not 100% that the same resutl would have happened, either. A sign might have solictied questions, especially from the now dead supervisor. I thought that you could smell methane. Rotten eggs. Now I know better.

Basic Bob

Sat, Jun 22, 2013 : 1:19 a.m.

Posting warnings is no substitute for proper work instructions before potentially hazardous work is performed. Warning signs never prevented death or serious injury.

Nicholas Urfe

Fri, Jun 21, 2013 : 9:43 p.m.

Sad that people are calling the lawyer greedy. A man was killed and another man was severely injured, possibly permanently. Definitely needlessly. Methane is an odorless gas. The experts in methane production from sewage probably should have warned the guys that the tank continuously emitted explosive concentrations of gas. The torch is the quick and cheap way to do the job. Quick = more profit. But someone didn't tell the worker-bees that this job was dangerous and the quick way would not be safe. One wonders who knew? The court case should surface the facts.


Sat, Jun 22, 2013 : 1:41 a.m.

He never used th word greedy and when you say "People" thats plural meaning more than one.

Nicholas Urfe

Sat, Jun 22, 2013 : 1:21 a.m.

Maybe you should read the comments before replying. Specifically the one right before mine. @Dave: "Sounds like a lawyer read this on here and ran over to the hospital to pick up the suit. Not cool. "let me sue you because my client didn't know methane was explosive."


Sat, Jun 22, 2013 : midnight

Speaking of "Facts" Where do you see anyone calling the lawyer greedy? The word greedy isn't even used in a single comment or reply and no one even suggested it. Get YOUR facts right.


Fri, Jun 21, 2013 : 9:19 p.m.

Sounds like a lawyer read this on here and ran over to the hospital to pick up the suit. Not cool. "let me sue you because my client didn't know methane was explosive."

Nicholas Urfe

Sat, Jun 22, 2013 : 2:17 p.m.

@Dave: How much do you think those hospital bills are? Who is paying them? How does this guy support his family and make his car and house payments while he is sidelined with a traumatic brain injury, and other permanent injuries? Who pays for his physical therapy and when does it begin? Who coordinates that given the report that he has a brain injury and may not be able to think straight? You seem to be blaming the victim here, and also criticizing him for getting rapid help to put his shattered life back together. Is he just supposed to sit in the hospital and hope someone helps him, pays his bills and takes care of his family? For all we know he was told the tank was not explosive because it was a windy day. Or that it was vented. Etc.


Sat, Jun 22, 2013 : 12:44 a.m.

johnnya2 I am very much against frivolous lawsuits. BUT you are spot on on this one.


Fri, Jun 21, 2013 : 11:51 p.m.

NO, the suit says HE DID NOT KNOW THERE WAS METHANE. "The people in charge of the site should have known that the digester was still full of sewage," is EXACTLY what he said. I am sure Mr McBride would have no way of knowing there was still sewage there, that is not what he is paid to know.

Jack Gladney

Fri, Jun 21, 2013 : 9 p.m.

"This is not rocket science." I agree. It's more like seventh or eight grade physics, which seems to make the attorney's comment an odd admission of a mitigating factor. My dad used to ask us as kids, "If someone told you to jump off a bridge..."

Basic Bob

Sat, Jun 22, 2013 : 1:14 a.m.

Worker beware? I don't think so, Jack.


Sat, Jun 22, 2013 : 12:42 a.m.

Jack How long does it take to teach a kid to use a cutting torch? How long does it take to teach a kid how many ways there are to be injured while using a cutting torch? By your standards a freshman in High school would be expected to know better. How ridiculous!


Fri, Jun 21, 2013 : 11:49 p.m.

So EVERy person who ever does anything that may cause an explosion needs to check for themselves if there is methane around? The fact is, the DEFAULT position should be there is NO methane. If there is, it is the issue off the contractor to inform the workers. I am always amazed at right wingers and their blame the worker mentality. He was paid to do a job. He did the job the way the COMPANY demanded he do it at the time of their choosing. He was not allowed to run tests or determine off there was methane. THAT IS NOT HIS JOB.


Fri, Jun 21, 2013 : 9:52 p.m.

For all we know, he was told the site was cleared and no methane issue was present.

zip the cat

Fri, Jun 21, 2013 : 8:46 p.m.

What part of using common cense don't you understand?


Sat, Jun 22, 2013 : 12:38 a.m.

Who are you referring to? Common sense is something that does not apply to everything. Would it be "common sense" to know that eating Foxglove can cause the following in your pet? Cardiac arrhythmia, vomiting, diarrhea, weakness Would it be "common sense" to know how many days it takes a tomato to ripen? Some things are learned that's why there is training!

Nicholas Urfe

Fri, Jun 21, 2013 : 8:53 p.m.

This was all completely censeless.

Momma G

Fri, Jun 21, 2013 : 8:32 p.m.

It's sad that this person feels the need to sue, when if, fully trained, he wouldn't have been using that "torch" at that sight to begin with. Praying for healing so we don't have, yet, another person on disability.

Basic Bob

Sat, Jun 22, 2013 : 1:12 a.m.

The first rule of safety is that all accidents are preventable. The way that is achieved is training. It is the employer's responsibility to provide that training so people don't die or suffer permanent injuries. The "hot wrench" is an acceptable way to remove stuck bolts or cut through steel covers. But this kind of "hot work" should not be performed in an explosive atmosphere. I'm sure the worker was trained to know this basic safety fact, but he was not informed that he was working under those conditions. Management fail. Worker lose.


Sat, Jun 22, 2013 : 12:29 a.m.

Your wrong on this one Momma! You/we can't expect that every employee is going to have knowledge in all dangerous situations. That knowledge comes with years of experience or training. That is why it is the employers responsibility to inform and train employees.


Fri, Jun 21, 2013 : 11:45 p.m.

Are you serious? How would this young man know there was methane? It is incumbent on the EMPLOYER (contractor) to let the people doing the work know what is going on. THIS is what happens when bids are given to the lowest bidder without having standards.


Fri, Jun 21, 2013 : 10:36 p.m.

It's sad that when a young kid who did what his employer instructed him to is injured on the job, people want to blame him, or act like he should have known better. The kids supervisor was standing right next to him. Yeah, the kid should have had better training but it is the responsibility contractor(s) to make sure their employees comply with OSHA and MIOSHA, not the other way around.


Fri, Jun 21, 2013 : 9:51 p.m.

It's sad he was injured, but this is the correct way to handle the issue. Otherwise we come to people with guns going for their own retribution. I agree it pays to pay attention to ones surroundings when working and never assume someone else thought of the safety issues - you cannot fix being dead. However, in terms of liability and on whom the responsibility falls for clearing a burn permit or setting work rules to require one - it is the employer. I don't know about this situation, but jobs I have been on require burn permits from safety before firing up any open flame. Without safety saying go ahead, or someone of authority in lieu of safety, never fire up. Work rules are good.


Fri, Jun 21, 2013 : 8:17 p.m.

It is called a CUTTING TORCH not a blowtorch.

Nicholas Urfe

Fri, Jun 21, 2013 : 8:51 p.m.

It blew up. So blowtorch is more appropriate.


Fri, Jun 21, 2013 : 7:46 p.m.

I'm sorry but David needed to warned about methane at a WWTP? Not that I disagree with the case, as a health and safety plan should have covered this. But self-preservation should stepped in at some point. Maybe someone should been been awake during science class.

Jim Osborn

Sat, Jun 22, 2013 : 12:14 p.m.

I'm surprised that the lawyer or owner who signed the contract was not wise enough to inquire about methods and ensure that proper ones were used. There is so much fault to spread around. If methane is oderless, then I can see how a mistake could have been made. I would have thought that one of the Dexter plant folks would have specified that methane is dangerous when the demolation contract was awarded and the word passed down.

An Arborigine

Fri, Jun 21, 2013 : 8:32 p.m.

how about an exhaust fan?

Basic Bob

Fri, Jun 21, 2013 : 8:03 p.m.

where was the management and safety training? it can never be assumed that a subcontractor's employees are trained or aware of the hazards.

Reverend Bubba X

Fri, Jun 21, 2013 : 7:58 p.m.

Sorry, but Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Act requires that an employer protect employees from hazards causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm. Perhaps someone should understand their legal and moral responsibilities as an employer?


Fri, Jun 21, 2013 : 7:43 p.m.

I understand why this young man is suing. But he's suing the man who died?!

John Counts

Fri, Jun 21, 2013 : 8:02 p.m.

Revered Bubba X is correct. The suits lists Platinum Mechanical Inc. as a defendant. Koch worked for the company. Sentences have been reworded to avoid any confusion.

Reverend Bubba X

Fri, Jun 21, 2013 : 7:56 p.m.

He suing the contractor who employed Michael Koch, the man who was killed, not the man. "Michael Koch of Platinum Mechanical, Inc., one of the contractors named in the suit, was killed in the blast."